CIA go­ing too far with cen­sor­ship

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Melvin A. Good­man

I have joined in a law­suit with four for­mer fed­eral em­ploy­ees to end the gov­ern­ment’s cen­sor­ship of our writ­ings on na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues. The cur­rent pub­li­ca­tions-re­view sys­tem of our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies is dys­func­tional, in­hibit­ing our abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in na­tional se­cu­rity de­bates. The gov­ern­ment has a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing bona fide se­crets, but the re­view sys­tem is opaque, ex­ceed­ing le­git­i­mate na­tional se­cu­rity bound­aries and com­pro­mis­ing free speech. For­mer CIA di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den ac­knowl­edged the prob­lem, stat­ing that “al­though the public can­not be briefed on ev­ery­thing, there has to be enough out there so that the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion be­lieves what they [i.e., in­tel­li­gence agen­cies] are do­ing is ac­cept­able.”

My ex­pe­ri­ence with the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency’s re­view sys­tem ex­em­pli­fies the ob­sta­cles that keep le­git­i­mate in­for­ma­tion from pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the public. In last year’s con­gres­sional dis­cus­sions of the con­fir­ma­tion for CIA di­rec­tor Gina Haspel, senior agency of­fi­cials, such as for­mer act­ing di­rec­tor Mike Morell, were per­mit­ted to de­fend her role in the un­con­scionable prac­tice of tor­ture and abuse in se­cret pris­ons dur­ing the War on Ter­ror. The CIA’s pub­li­ca­tions re­view board, how­ever, redacted my writ­ings de­scrib­ing her ex­ten­sive role in these ac­tiv­i­ties. Her in­volve­ment was ef­fec­tively cov­ered up. For a forth­com­ing book, the re­view­ers or­dered me to re­move a ref­er­ence to an ar­ti­cle in the New York Times that re­ferred to these ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause they claimed the “ti­tle” of that ar­ti­cle was clas­si­fied.

My last book, “Whistle­blower at the CIA,” was crit­i­cal of the CIA’s politi­ciza­tion of in­tel­li­gence in the 1980s and in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003. The book was held up for 11 months, vi­o­lat­ing the 30-day time pe­riod for re­view that was part of my orig­i­nal agree­ment with the CIA; the time frame was af­firmed in a 1972 cir­cuit court de­ci­sion. My anal­y­sis of U.S. drone ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing a ref­er­ence to civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, was redacted, al­though I was cit­ing the public re­marks of U.S. of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent of the United States.

Manuscript­s from for­mer senior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials who praise the work of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity are quickly re­viewed and rarely redacted. Crit­i­cal manuscript­s, on the other hand, re­ceive ex­ten­sive de­lays and nu­mer­ous redac­tions of ma­te­ri­als pre­vi­ously dis­cussed in the me­dia. There are non­sen­si­cal ex­am­ples as well. I was told that there could be no ref­er­ences in my writ­ing to CIA “sta­tion chiefs” be­cause the term is clas­si­fied. The agency backed off when I cited the nu­mer­ous ref­er­ences to sta­tion chiefs in the writ­ings of for­mer di­rec­tor of cen­tral in­tel­li­gence Stans­field Turner. Sim­i­lar time was wasted ar­gu­ing ref­er­ences to CIA train­ing fa­cil­i­ties in Vir­ginia, which are fa­mil­iar to any­one who fol­lows the news or reads the works of David Bal­dacci.

In ad­di­tion to im­pos­ing long re­view pe­ri­ods, the CIA now is de­mand­ing that I dis­pose of all redacted in­for­ma­tion by trans­port­ing “hard copy ma­te­rial” as well as CD/DVDs and mem­ory cards to a “USG ap­proved de­struc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity.” They also want to ap­prove dele­tions from the cloud, such as Drop­box or Google Drive, or from files in the “Re­cy­cle Bin” or “Trash” fold­ers. I con­sider this ha­rass­ment.

Another de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to com­pli­cate the process of re­view is to main­tain a very small staff at the CIA’s Pub­li­ca­tions Re­view Board. The agency is man­ag­ing the re­view sys­tem with the same num­ber of of­fi­cials they em­ployed in the 1970s when its PRB was for­mally es­tab­lished. At that time, the board re­viewed 1,000 pages a year. In 2014, ac­cord­ing to the CIA’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, the board re­viewed over 150,000 pages, av­er­ag­ing a rate of 400 per day. The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and the Knight First Amend­ment In­sti­tute at Columbia Uni­ver­sity, which are rep­re­sent­ing our law­suit, ob­tained this in­for­ma­tion by us­ing the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

Our democ­racy re­quires ac­count­abil­ity in the field of na­tional se­cu­rity, and for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers are uniquely qual­i­fied to pro­vide such ac­count­abil­ity. There are com­pelling rea­sons for pro­tect­ing the abil­ity of for­mer mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers to par­tic­i­pate in the demo­cratic process and to in­form the Amer­i­can public.

Nearly two years ago, the Congress de­ter­mined that the re­view sys­tem was dys­func­tional and or­dered the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity to de­velop new rules for gov­ern­ing pub­li­ca­tion re­view. Congress’s dead­line has passed, but the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence has given no in­di­ca­tion of the pub­li­ca­tion or im­ple­men­ta­tion of new rules. Ad­di­tional re­forms are needed in the Con­gres­sional over­sight process and in the Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral in or­der to limit the abil­ity of the pub­li­ca­tions re­view sys­tem to block le­git­i­mate and timely writ­ings of for­mer mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers. Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford cre­ated the In­tel­li­gence Over­sight Board in 1976 to cor­rect the abuses of power that took place dur­ing the Viet­nam War, but it cur­rently lacks a quo­rum to con­duct over­sight.

Se­cret in­tel­li­gence agen­cies will never be fully com­pat­i­ble with the demo­cratic process; there will al­ways be ten­sion be­tween an open so­ci­ety and se­cret agen­cies. The open­ness and ac­count­abil­ity that our democ­racy re­quires de­pends on truth-tell­ers to ex­pose cor­rup­tion. Con­gres­sional in­quiry and in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism, es­sen­tial to a democ­racy, re­quire par­tic­i­pa­tion from for­mer fed­eral of­fi­cials with ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. They should not be ob­structed by a bi­ased re­view process that makes politi­cized judg­ments, which vi­o­late the right of free speech.

Melvin A. Good­man ([email protected]­i­zon.net), a for­mer CIA in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst, is a senior fel­low at the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Pol­icy and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of gov­ern­ment at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity.

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